What is it about America's favorite format for avocado that inspires near-religious fervor?
Not much is sacred when it comes to food in the USA. While some innovations may be met with a little grumbling, new hybrid favorites are created all the time: Just cross a croissant with a doughnut or a bagel with a rainbow. This isn’t France, for God’s sake, so if something tastes great, it can, obviously, be made even greater. Merely add something else to it — or, at more refined levels, “elevate” it with better (or at least different) ingredients and more complicated methodology (and, of course, charge more for it). It’s the American culinary way.
However: Thou shalt not adulterate guacamole.
Last summer the entire Internet, the Republican Party of Texas and President Obama himself resoundingly rejected the addition of peas to everyone’s favorite avocado mash as outright heresy. (Note that the controversial recipe came from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who just happens to be French.) Pomegranate seeds — despite their significance in the Bible, not to mention their superfood status — are only slightly less reviled in guacamole context. Some have tried to add fruits, or nuts, or blue cheese. Broccamole — the unholy transubstantiation of broccoli into, purportedly, guacamole — also failed to become a thing, despite the endorsement of chef Ludo Lefebvre (also from France … coincidence?!).
While mashing is integral to guacamole, woe betide those who dare to mash-up, and the out-and-out replacement of the avocado with anything else is tantamount to sin. Seattle chef Josh Henderson is engaged in such transgression at his new Bar Noroeste, a dark, upscale neo-taqueria in Amazonland at Seventh and Lenora. There, he has ambitiously undertaken to create versions of Mexican favorites with all-Pacific-Northwest foodstuffs — meaning, among other things, no avocado. (This makes those of us who find the availability of avocado and citrus in Seattle to be one of the few true miracles of contemporary life look ignoble, indeed.)
Henderson’s guacamole at Noroeste is made out of eggplant. It’s pleasantly smooth in texture, if not exactly creamy, and very bright-tart with the taste of lime, which Henderson says will be replaced with a bespoke vinegar soon to achieve all-local status. It’s made by a process that includes soaking the eggplant in soda water and salt, frying it whole, then discarding the outer layer. It’s good, for what it is.
Admittedly, I was indulging in some baiting when I made the Facebook post: “Don’t call something guacamole when there’s no avocado. It just can’t end well.” But the zealotry of the responses was still noteworthy. “WHO OR WHAT REQUIRED YOU TO SAY THIS OUT LOUD???” came first, aptly summarizing the rest, which ranged from simply “Unacceptable” to a (joking, I’m sure) suggestion of a beatdown.
Monica Dimas, who runs both Neon Taco and Tortas Condesa, makes some of the area’s best non-messed-with guacamole. Asked why people are so full of fervor about guacamole in general, she took the evangelism down a number of notches: “Because it’s good when it’s done right,” she calmly replied. “And even if it’s done wrong, you can kind of doctor it up at the table.”
The culprit of what she calls “bland and sad” guacamole is usually, she says, not enough salt and citrus; quietly add them to subpar restaurant guacamole, mix and enjoy. Dimas was even willing to endorse my cheater guacamole recipe: avocado, some dollops of pico-de-gallo-type salsa, dash of hot sauce, squeezes of lime, salt, pepper, maybe a spoonful of sour cream. The only thing that she professes to be offended by when it comes to guac is the word “guac,” which she “[expletive] hates — makes me shudder every time.”
While Dimas calls her guacamole “pretty straightforward,” it hits exactly the right rich-spicy-salty-citrus balance, and she’s willing to share her secrets. At Neon Taco, every bowl of guacamole is made to order; otherwise, she says, “It loses creaminess.” She uses both lime, for “base citrus notes,” and lemon, for “higher” ones — an advancement in tartness that might sound like overkill, until you taste the end product. And, Dimas notes, every single order is tasted to make sure it’s approaching perfection. Making it at home, to your own specific taste, will get you as close to guacamole heaven as humanly possible.
Monica Dimas’ Guacamole
In a bowl, mash together with a fork until creamy:
1 avocado, on the larger side of medium
1 to 2 teaspoons minced serrano pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ diced Roma tomato
2 tablespoons minced yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
Taste, then adjust citrus and salt accordingly. Add more serrano for spiciness. You should be able to taste the citrus juice and the avocado distinctly.